It’s somehow presumed that professional artists keep track of their major works, and carefully catalogue the details of what happens to them and who the purchasers are. Would that were so! In fact, they often don’t – which is why ‘unknown’ works by them continue to turn up.
And so it is in Margaret Rope’s case.
Over the last twenty years since investigations started, a number of works have turned up… though the hunt is still on for others too.
Letchworth / Welle of Love & Goblin Market / Judith / Hoylake / Heckmondwike
To be fair to Marga, she did actually make a draft list of her works towards the end of her life (she died in 1953) – but she apparently forgot some works. Also, as we know, she left almost no papers, so, in the end, the world simply lost track of some of her works.
But six extra pieces, two of which were sold to important American museums, have re-appeared in the last few decades.
Works in America
Curiously, the two small glass panels now in America – Goblin’s Market & The Welle Of Love – are not from her professional career, but from her student days (though are still very expert for all that – Marga was an early starter!).
The story of them is (probably) that they were passed to Denys, Margaret’s brother, after their mother’s death; certainly, the mother’s will is quite specific in leaving The Welle Of Love’ (though she called it ‘Love’s Welle’) to Denys (see pic right).
After the war, Marga’s standing had dipped (and her reputation was quite neglected – see separate article), which is presumably why Denys sold them off to an antiques-dealer, who then sold them on to the Canadian millionaire William E. Fredeman, who put them in his Fredeman Collection. (In fact, before Goblin Market was given proper provenance, some historians believed it was a work by Dante Gabriel Rossetti!)
After Fredeman’s death, the pieces went to auction, where they went for surprisingly high prices, one to the New York Metropolitan Museum, one to the Los Angeles County Museum.
It was only at these moments, i.e. when they went to public auction, that the world at large even realised that these panels existed…
Another very accomplished panel – Judith & Holofernes (right) – is also a student piece.
There was reason to believe that this work did exist somewhere because a cartoon (ie a preliminary drawing) of it is to be found in Birmingham University’s archives. But where was it?
Totally by chance, Arthur Rope, the main expert on Margaert Rope, noticed a version of it in glass come up on a valuation website in 2010. He pursued the lead, and found that it was in a private collection in south Shropshire, where the owner was astonished to be informed that it was a Margaret Rope!
The story of this verification has a marvellously happy ending, as the piece is currently on long-term loan to Shrewsbury Museum.
The interpretations of the curious stained-glass window of ‘a knight’, at Hoylake Church in the Wirral, are told on this website elsewhere (see The Hoylake Knight Window).
However, the fact is that no one at the church was really positive of the window’s origins or its maker – until a guide to churches of the region came out in 2005. In their book ‘The Arts and Crafts Movement in the North West of England’, Barrie & Wendy Armstrong, who are both experienced researchers, firmly attributed the window to Margaret Rope.
This was complete news to Arthur Rope – who then added it to the definitive catalogue he has been constructing for the last decades.
Arthur had in fact started a Margaret Rope Archive website by the 2000s, so it was no surprise that another researcher soon contacted him – as she believed that she had proof of another Rope ‘lost’ window.
Julia Smith had been writing her book ‘The Elusive Father Brown’, the story of the eccentric, unique Father O’Connor, the priest at Heckmondwike Catholic Church in Yorkshire before the First World War.
In her researches, Julia started to put two and two together, and finally realised that the roundels (lunettes) in the church must be by Margaret Rope, not the work of Edward Burne-Jones as claimed.
Arthur added them to the catalogue…
By now, Margaret Rope’s name and work were coming back into recognition; so much so, that there was a short report about her on BBC Radio Four in 2014.
In Hertfordshire, a parishioner heard the broadcast – and wondered about a small panel of St Francis which was being kept in a storage area her church, St Hugh’s Catholic Church in Letchworth…
One way to identify lost pieces is to check the archives to see if there are any the cartoons (preliminary drawings) of the works. Sure enough, Arthur had knowledge of a cartoon of a missing St Francis, and, having been contacted, he found that the cartoon and the panel matched – so his catalogue acquired yet another new entry! (See: story of the Letchworth find).
More to come?
It is quite surprising that many parish churches can have glorious stained-glass windows, yet often the wardens have little idea of their provenance; the origins have been lost to memory, and might lie only in dusty papers.
However, even if the proof in old papers can be difficult to find, sometimes a contemporaneous report will mention something – a note in a diary or a newspaper of the time might mention “seeing a window by Miss Rope” -, or, as we’ve noted, an informed parishioner might start to take an interest in the artworks within their own church – and thus clues start to fall into place.
Which is why we expect, as the years unfold, that more leads to more Margaret Ropes will come to light (another dozen or so are unaccounted for) – and we’d be very grateful if you’d put us on to any! Please email us if you can.
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